In the midst of ongoing doctor and nursing shortages, and concerns over ambulance response times in rural Manitoba, the healthy glow of a little good medical news stands out.
Nearly all surgical wait times in the Prairie Mountain Health region have declined in comparison to wait times recorded one year ago for hip, knee and cataract procedures.
As PMH CEO Penny Gilson told the Sun earlier this week, this decrease in wait times in Brandon is in large part thanks to three major changes within PMH.
The regional health authority has changed its requirements for reporting wait times to exclude patients who choose to forgo surgeries for personal reasons, such as vacations or other prior commitments. This, of course, improves patient wait times more on paper than in reality as merely the content of the data reported has changed.
More practically, however, the health authority has added more equipment specifically for knee and hip replacements to shorten turnaround between operations. As well, less complex surgeries that don’t necessarily need to be conducted in Brandon have been outsourced to smaller rural hospitals to ease the burden, providing more operating room time for doctors who are willing to travel.
By outsourcing these procedures, perhaps — finally — we are seeing some of the direct benefits of amalgamation between the former Parkland, Assiniboine and Brandon RHAs. Utilizing new resources available to an expanded RHA operation can allow for these kinds of improvements. Overall, this is a welcome improvement for patients in western Manitoba.
And the numbers seem to bear it out.
So far this year, patients needing hip and knee procedures have an average wait time of 13 weeks, down 11 weeks compared to July of last year, when patients waited 24 weeks.
The Brandon Regional Health Centre is the only facility that performs the surgeries in the region and is well below the Pan-Canadian benchmark of 26 weeks. Though the Boundary Trails Health Centre in Winkler performs more procedures than Brandon, it has a wait time for these same surgeries of 27 weeks on average.
As well, cataract surgery wait times in Brandon have decreased by two weeks — from 13 to 11 — while Swan Valley saw a dramatic decrease — from 22 to 11. The benchmark for cataract surgery is 16 weeks.
Last year, Minnedosa was the most efficient hospital in the province when it came to cataract surgeries and while wait times there have doubled — from four weeks last year to eight this year — it is still the quickest in Manitoba.
There are still some major concerns in the region, however. In January of this year, we reported that 15 of 31 rural emergency medical services stations in Westman did not meet the 30-minute provincial ambulance response time benchmark. Most worrisome were the communities of Souris, Hamiota and McCreary, where ambulance response times were anywhere between 11 minutes to half an hour past the government benchmark.
That meant, at least as of last January, if you called 911 for an emergency in one of these communities, you could be waiting between 40 minutes and an hour before an ambulance arrives, 90 per cent of the time.
And there have been lapses in ER services across the region this year, as there have been for several years. Doctor and nursing shortages have been a major problem this year as well.
But Manitoba Health and the RHA could go a long way to improving Prairie Mountain Health’s chances of securing new doctor and nursing staff if a project to build a new and modern health centre between Neepawa and Minnedosa came to fruition.
Unfortunately, that plan seems stalled at the review stage, and has been for several years.
We are pleased to see the RHA and Manitoba Health make some significant strides forward for surgical procedure wait times in Westman, and Prairie Mountain Health staff should be lauded for and encouraged by their work in this regard.
But there is still a lot of room for improvement, something that we probably don’t need to point out to RHA officials and our provincial politicians.